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A California Drought History Lesson

From the Publisher Clif Smith

Someone said ages ago, “Everyone complains about the weather.”  Well, we don’t really complain much here in Beverly Hills because we would sound foolish complaining about our usually-perfect weather.

So “now” California has a serious drought.  The 6 o’clock news reports loves to sound the alarm when we have rain, when we don’t have rain, when it might rain, when it did rain.  As this article goes to press late on Thursday afternoon, the sun is shining with a few white clouds in the distance.  Temperature about 65 degrees.  Not bad, huh?

California, we’re told, desperately needs some rain up and down the state.  We are told that reservoirs are at near-historic lows, the Sierra Nevada snow pack is way down, and our state is just too dry.  We know that farmers in the Central Valley cannot plant crops this year, so we know our food prices will jump a lot.   We are also comforted to know that the federal government is quite content to send money (maybe) to the farmers who cannot grow food to feed us because the federal government must insure that Bay-area sardines, known as the “Delta smelt,” will get their water.  People can starve, but the sardines must be saved.  What?  You can’t find enough sardines at the Beverly Hills Market or  Trader Joe’s?

If you grew up here and can remember the Fourth Grade (“California History”), you might recall that we live in a desert (officially “semi-arid” in professional parlance).  A desert does not have standing or running water.  Those same history classes told of years of drought which let cattle die and crops wither.  It wasn’t really Yankee sharp dealing that broke up the giant Spanish land grant ranchos, it was drought.  Adios rancheros Figueroa, Sepulveda, Michillenda and amigos – no agua no rancho.

When the Yankees arrived, apparently the Franciscan fathers at the various missions told them “You’re in a desert.  We don’t have regular water supplies.”  It’s also quite possible that, if they trekked overland from St. Louis they noticed the same thing about the time they reached Utah, Nevada or Arizona – territories all.  Driving from here to Las Vegas is not exactly like going through a rain forest.  So, what did our Yankee (or “Gringo”) forebears do?  They found water – lots of it – and sent it here.  Mono Lake, Owens River Valley, the Feather River Project, California Aqueduct and the Colorado River to name a few places we went to “borrow” water permanently.  (How many Southern Californians know that the Los Angeles Metropolitan Water District – partially owned by Beverly Hills – actually was the builder and owner of the Hoover Dam?)

How many of us actually know that Beverly Hills exists because of water?  About 93 years ago Los Angeles tried to annex Beverly Hills to get to our water.  Our City was, after all, originally the “Rodeo Land & Water Company” land.  We still have productive wells and springs in many places.  (Why is “Coldwater Canyon” named “Coldwater”?  Certainly you can figure out that one.)

Just as Los Angeles is now trying to bully us to dig its subway under our high school, tear up our streets, block police, fire and paramedic services, cut off our electricity, gas and water without telling us anything (oh – is that Metro?), Los Angeles tried nearly a century ago to bully us out of our water.

As you read this, perhaps it is raining.  We do need the rain.  For most of recorded history of our state we’ve needed the water.  That is not new.  It is why we have all these reservoirs and aqueducts and lakes and dams.

Let’s hope the rain has fallen and is falling on our croplands.  We cannot be sure if that rain will do the farmers any good if it falls onto federal lands or projects.  As of now, according to President Obama, rain on federal lands and in federal projects in California belongs to the Delta smelt, not people.

Even if it rains, the farmers may not get enough water to grow their crops, we will not have as much food, and what we have will cost a lot more, but at least we know the Delta smelt will be OK.  Sardines anyone?

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